Department of Agriculture

    Areas of Global Change Research.USDA-sponsored research focuses on understanding terrestrial systems and the effects of global change (including water balance, atmospheric deposition, vegetative quality, and UV-B radiation) on food, fiber, and forestry production in agricultural, forest, and range ecosystems, and examines how agricultural and forestry activities can contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gases. USDA research provides policymakers and agricultural producers with useful scientific information. Research areas include: interactions between terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere; methane generation and nitrous oxide release; soil properties, including moisture, erosion, organic matter, nutrient fluxes, and microbes; the relationship of global change to forest and range fires, insects, and plant pathogens; global change and agricultural management systems; and the contributions of agricultural sources of methyl bromide to stratospheric ozone depletion, and possible alternatives and substitutes for this fumigant.

    In FY 2000, USDA will increase its carbon cycle research program. As part of the interagency Carbon Cycle Science Program, USDA will collaborate with other Federal agencies to conduct research to better understand how agricultural practices affect the net carbon balance and develop methods that will assist farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners to increase carbon sequestration. Special emphasis will be given to measurement of the effects of management and conservation practices on carbon storage in cropland and grazing lands. Basic research will define the mechanism by which soil carbon is lost to the atmosphere or transferred to stable carbon pools. USDA will also identify and quantify carbon sources, sinks, and fluxes for all U.S. forest land, including marginal agricultural land and other potential conversion land-use types. USDA will expand and digitize its cooperative soil survey data bases that provides information necessary to assess the impact of policies directed at increasing the terrestrial carbon stock. Additional research will be directed at estimating the economic feasibility of carbon sequestration strategies.

FY 2000 Program Highlights. ARS will continue to focus on four broad research areas: 1) experimental determinations of the direct effects of rising atmospheric CO2 levels, increasing temperatures, and their interaction with the physiology and performance of crop plants and with ecosystem processes that control productivity of grazing lands; 2) carbon and nitrogen cycling and fluxes between the terrestrial surface and the atmosphere, including sequestration of carbon in soils and vegetation; 3) changes in hydrological processes associated with climate change that may affect water quality, efficiency of use by crops, and availability for industry, urban use, and irrigated agriculture; and 4) the development of simulation models with required inputs for predicting responses of crops, watersheds, and managed ecosystems to global change.

    CSREES will continue to support the USDA UV-B Monitoring Network. Information from this research network is combined with satellite-based measurements to provide an accurate climatological UV-B irradiance database. This database documents long-term trends and supports research on plant effects on the factors controlling UV-B irradiance; radiation transfer model development; and assessment of the potential for damage to ecosystems. Global Change research in CREES’s National Research Initiative (NRI) Competitive Grants Program aims to increase understanding of the possible impacts of global environmental change on the sustainability of agriculture and forestry. Research projects are supported that will reduce uncertainty regarding the effects of possible changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, rising CO2 levels, and altered radiation on crop productivity, natural resources, hydrological processes, and water availability. The NRI Programs that solicit global change research are: 1) Plant Responses to the Environment; 2) Ecosystems Science; 3) Soils and Soil Biology; and 4) the NSF/DOE/NASA/USDA/NOAA Joint Program on Terrestrial Ecology and Global change (TECO).

    ERS will continue its analysis of the agricultural links to biodiversity, land-use change, and the ability to satisfy increased demands for agricultural goods and services while minimizing damage to the world’s natural resources. Research also will assess the potential farm sector impacts of changing weather variability and farmer adaptation to changing environmental conditions. In FY 2000, ERS will initiate a new research program to assess the economic feasibility of various climate change mitigation efforts in U.S. agriculture, focusing on the economic potential for domestic carbon sequestration and control of trace gases in agriculture, the use of economic incentives to encourage carbon sequestration on agricultural lands, and the potential to target existing USDA conservation programs toward promoting greenhouse gas mitigation activities in the farm sector.

    FS global change research focuses on determining how atmospheric changes and potential climatic change may affect forest productivity, forest health, and species distributions. Ecosystem-scale experiments involving increased CO2 and other environmental factors have begun at several sites representing major U.S. forest types. As the uncertainty in model predictions is reduced, analysts are describing likely socioeconomic effects of global change on forests in the various regions of the United States. For example, the Mapped Atmosphere-Plant-Soil System simulates ecosystem distribution and function under current and potential future climates. Forest and grassland ecosystems are major factors in understanding and enhancing global and regional carbon cycles. In FY 2000 the Forest Service will enhance its long-term research on forest and grassland carbon cycles, with particular emphasis on the soil component. This enhanced carbon research effort will result in better information for use by forest resource managers to improve carbon cycle management on their lands.

    NRCS will collect data necessary to build validated, verified baseline soil carbon inventories and assess policy-driven impacts on soil carbon stocks at national, regional, and field-level scales. NRCS goals include establishing baseline soil carbon levels under various covers/management systems; developing a "use-dependent" soil carbon database integrated with national soils databases; collecting soil carbon data on a sample-based inventory frame for national and regional level inventory estimation; and testing the use of models and field collection of soil carbon data. In conjunction with ARS, NRCS will test soil carbon prediction/planning tools.

    Related Research. In addition to focused USGCRP research, the USDA sponsors research contributing to the assessment of global change effects on the agricultural food and fiber production systems and the forest and forest ecosystems of the United States and worldwide. Programs include long-term studies addressing the structure, function, and management of forest and grassland ecosystems; research in applied sciences, including soils, climate, food and fiber crops, pest management, forest fish and wildlife, and social sciences; implementation of ecosystem management on the national forests and grasslands; and human interaction with natural resources.

    Mapping of Budget Request to Appropriations Legislation. In the Agriculture Appropriations Bill, USGCRP activities are funded under Title I-Agricultural Programs, within the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) Research and Education Activities, and Economic Research Service (ERS) accounts; and under Title II-Conservation Programs, within the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Operations account. In the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, USDA USGCRP activities are funded in the USDA Forest Service (FS) section under Title II-Related Agencies, within the FS Forest Research account.